Northwestern– the President makes it all worse

Philosopher Lauren Leydon-Hardy explains.

In view of Kipnis’ refusal to correct the factual inaccuracies in her piece, and as the misleading narrative propagated by her began to reverberate across multiple media platforms, at least two students filed Title IX retaliation complaints against Kipnis. Because, when a professor writes about your Title IX sexual assault complaint in an erroneous, misleading, and condescending way, that pretty straightforwardly raises questions about retaliation under Title IX. As of the publication of Schapiro’s op-ed, though, those complaints had yet even to be assigned investigators. So, here, roughly, is how this unfolded: Kipnis writes a piece in clear violation of the faculty handbook, riddled with falsehoods about students, even as she is discussing the worst thing that has ever happened to these people. And then, while there are two utterly nascent, open Title IX complaints, our university president writes an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal issuing a verdict: Kipnis’ piece is protected speech.

11 thoughts on “Northwestern– the President makes it all worse

  1. I found the NU president’s op-ed really quite strange. Saying that speech is protected by the first amendment seems to be an utter red herring. Of course it’s protected by the first amendment! But that says nothing about what course of action a private university should or could take. Even public employees can be sanctioned for their speech under certain circumstances where the speech in question conflicts with their professional responsibilities, and Northwestern is a private university to boot.

  2. Given that it’s a Title IX complaint, the First Amendment issue is relevant. To a first approximation, just as the state can’t directly prohibit protected speech, it can’t condition federal funding to universities on their sanctioning people who engage in protected speech. Of course, that’s only a first approximation—the details here are very complicated, and, as you point out, there are specific cases when the state can sanction someone for speech, provided that the speech that impinges on her professional duties. But I think it’s much too simple just to say that it’s a red herring.

  3. Grad student, I don’t follow. Of course speech can be protected in some ways and not in others. The state can, and does, condition federal funding on universities responding in particular ways, sometimes involving sanction, to speech that is protected in the sense that the speaker would never face more direct interference from the state on account of engaging in it. So, for example, sexually harassing speech isn’t going to result in any the feds being concerned with you as an individual, but universities which receive federal funding are obligated to do something about it when it occurs on their campuses.

  4. My only point is that federal funding is constrained by the doctrine of unconstitutional conditions. See, e.g., Perry v. Sindermann, 408 U.S. 593, 597 (1972):

    “For at least a quarter-century, this Court has made clear that even though a person has no ‘right’ to a valuable governmental benefit and even though the government may deny him the benefit for any number of reasons, there are some reasons upon which the government may not rely. It may not deny a benefit to a person on a basis that infringes his constitutionally protected interests—especially, his interest in freedom of speech. For if the government could deny a benefit to a person because of his constitutionally protected speech or associations, his exercise of those freedoms would in effect be penalized and inhibited.”

    (This applies, of course, to universities and other organizations as well as natural persons.) Of course, how this plays out particular cases is complicated, and I don’t want to make any specific claims about the issues involved here without further research.

    But my general point is just that the government doesn’t have a free hand: my objection to the original post was merely that the claim “[the First Amendment] says nothing about what course of action a private university should or could take” ignores the fact that Title IX is involved here, and the First Amendment imposes certain limitations on the freedom of Congress to bring about certain results by placing conditions on funding under Title IX, in the same way as it imposes limitations on everything else the government does.

  5. To be clear, I mean the first amendment as it applies to her speech rights as a private citizen. I think it’s pretty obvious that Schapiro’s op-ed was not thinking of free speech in any more nuanced terms than that.

  6. I think it a bit strange that anyone would classify her opinion piece as retaliation against NW students under Title IX. They are briefly mentioned, to illustrate a point. I’m also not clear on how it violated the faculty handbook, but I also didn’t go looking for it. Are professor’s prevented from writing on matters of public interest if it intersects with their school in any way? I suppose, unlike many commenting, I found his op-ed piece to be measured and well-though out.

  7. Anonymous, did you read the longer/full piece? Here’s the paragraph on the suggestion that Kipnis’ piece violated the fac handbook:
    [W]hen Northwestern students marched in protest of Kipnis’ op-ed (an act itself in the spirit of freedom of expression) Kipnis took to social media to decry their dissent as impinging on her academic liberties. Then, on March 28th, Northwestern’s president weighed in, echoing Kipnis’ right to academic freedom. I confess, that was a pretty shocking move to me, given that Kipnis’ op-ed was in clear violation of Northwestern’s faculty handbook, which explains that faculty, while free from institutional censorship, also undertake “special obligations” in virtue of their “special position in the community.” Among those obligations, naturally, is a commitment to be accurate “at all times.”
    But Kipnis’ op-ed was alarmingly inaccurate. And immediately after its publication, several individuals reached out to her directly to correct the myriad misrepresentations of fact that she harmfully published as gospel.

  8. I did read the whole piece. And there were two corrections on her op Ed. That’s hardly alarmingly inaccurate. Accurate at all times…people can unknowingly say things that aren’t accurate. I hardly think the imperative means that no one is allowed to blunder here or there, but rather means faculty can’t knowingly propagate falsehoods.

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